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YouTube Reminds the Music Labels That Music Is Really, Really Big on YouTube

YouTube music videos have their own unicorn club, and it's getting bigger, faster.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

At Re/code we are most definitely not in the habit of writing posts about infographics that land in our in-boxes, unbidden, via bulk mail.* But here we are, writing about an infographic. Two, actually.


Okay: YouTube wants us to know that the video for “See You Again,” Wiz Khalifa’s Paul Walker tribute from the most recent “Fast and the Furious” movie** has been seen a billion times.

But what YouTube really wants us to know is that lots of music videos have generated a billion views recently. Up until a few years ago, no video had generated a billion views, but now it’s happening all the time.

In 2012, “Gangnam Style” (Remember Psy?) became the first video to crack the billion mark. Now nine more have done it, and eight of them crossed that line in the last six months. Extra credit goes to Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, who are each responsible for two of them.

YouTube Billion View Music Videos

And those videos are also getting to a billion views faster than they used to. On average, it has taken the billion-view videos 484 days to hit that mark. But the last three did it in an average of 241 days.

YouTube billion views timeline

And here’s something YouTube would like to say out loud, but is hoping we do instead: These two charts make for a good reminder that even as Facebook’s video usage spikes, when people want to watch music videos they go to YouTube — and they’re doing it more often, even as Facebook grows.

And here’s another thing YouTube won’t say out loud, yet: Hey music labels — if you think you’re getting distribution like this anywhere else, you’re dreaming (or drunk or stoned). But YouTube execs certainly are saying this privately, as they start to renegotiate distribution deals with the big labels, which are starting to expire over the coming months.

Those negotiations will be very interesting, because both sides are unhappy with each other: The labels think YouTube doesn’t give them enough money for all the free content they provide to watchers/listeners***, and YouTube thinks the labels are run by greedy fools. But both sides also get great value from each other, so the safe odds are that everything stays put at the end of it.

But we might get some more infographics along the way.

* Seriously, PR pals. This is almost always a waste of time on your part. (Except when it’s not. So go ahead and keep clogging the Internet with these things. It only takes us a second to delete them, and who knows? Maybe this will be the time it works out.)
** From Universal Studios, which is owned by Comcast, which has invested in this website. Also: Did you know this about our Editor in Chief Ken Li?
*** Which is one of the reasons YouTube has been lurching toward a music video subscription offering for more than a year.

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